Monday, April 29, 2013

The Larry Yasgar Story

                                                   The Larry Yasgar Story
                            Written 12/27/2010 and rewritten 03/04/2016 unedited
                                                          Howard Yasgar

     In 1987 at the suggestion of my wife Katherine, I called up my cousin Larry Yasgar. I hadn’t spoken to Larry since around 1963, that’s when I married and moved to Florida from New Haven Connecticut.
     My cousin Larry is the son of my father’s brother, Sam Yasgar and his wife Faye. I felt bad that I hadn’t spoken to Larry in about twenty five years, and I had often wondered how he was doing. Both our fathers, were born in New Haven, around 1909 and 1910. With my father Jack being the older of the two. But both the brothers were a couple of handsome looking guys that grew up playing around on the streets of New Haven in the late 1920’s and 1930’s. Those, were the prohibition days, when the kids were wearing knickers, and trolleycars ran on the streets.
They were the days when Vaudeville was playing in the Shubert Theater on College Street. In New Haven, and it was also a time when New Haven was just becoming a modern city, you could call and order blocks of ice for your ice box , and they would be delivered by the ice man right to your house by truck.
     Both brothers, Jack and Sam lived in their family two story house on Sherman Avenue, and they hung around with their buddy Alfred Caplin. He was a budding artist back then that later became Al Capp the originator of the popular “Lil Abner” comic strip. My father said the three of them to hitch a ride would run behind the ice delivery trucks jumping on the back when no one was looking, they did it until Alfred fell off the back of the truck and a trolley car ran over his leg.
    By the 1930’s, life was changing for the two brothers, my father was selling news-papers on the corner of Church and Crown Street, in down town New Haven and Larry’s dad started professionally tap dancing on stage and traveling the vaudeville circuits.
     Eventually by the late 1930’s both of the brothers had married, with Sam, marrying a good looking blond girl named Faye, and they had a son Larry, who was born in 1941, and my father marrying a nurse named Betty Lazaroff. I was born in 1939, but because I was two years older than Larry, we didn’t hang around much together, in those days as us older guys never hung around with little kids younger than ourselves.
     I got to see Larry when there were family functions or when my folks went over to their house to visit. I can remember once when we visited their home and Larry was about eight or ten years old. Larry’s mom always opened up a big box of Whitmans chocolates. Well, one evening I walked into the pantry where Larry was biting into each candy until he found the soft fruit ones that he liked. What he was doing wasn’t really bad, as Larry carefully replaced the rejected ones with tooth marks back into its rightful place in the box.
     By the 1950’s my dad had bought a home in Westville and so did Larry’s Dad, and it was around that time that my cousin Larry started working at Cutlers record and tape store. Cutler had opened the music store on Broadway in New Haven in 1948 and I’m sure that Larry’s working in Cutlers record store is what probably inspired him to get into the music record business.               
     While I didn’t get to see Larry at all during those years, that he worked at Cutler’s, I often got to see his father Sam, who was managing the cosmetics departments for the Rexall drug chain right up the street from my high school.   
      In 1961 my father passed away, and by 1963, and I had just married and left Westville and New Haven for Miami Florida, but I had heard from family members that Larry had also married, and he was doing very well, living in Stamford Connecticut. They said he had three children, and I was told that he was working for some big record Company in New York.
      So one day in 1988, as I was sitting in my office in Miami, I was thinking about my cousin Larry, and I got the idea of looking him up on the internet to get his phone number, I found it, and I called Larry up. At that time we had not spoken in over twenty eight years, so I think Larry was happy to hear from me just as I was happy to talk with him. He confirmed that he was married and had several children, and he said that his father had also passed away but his Mom, came to visit his family in Stamford all the time.
      Larry told me that he was very involved with the recording Industry, he said he had started out at the bottom, working at Cutlers record store, and then he had worked himself up and into the New York record industry. Larry said he had done everything, even traveling and selling records out of the trunk of his car. Then in 1970 he became the regional sales manager for Atlantic Records in New York, and by 1973 he was promoted to national sales director, and he also became president of a new division called Vendetta Records. I didn’t fully understand everything Larry was talking about, because I knew absolutely nothing about the recorded music industry, but I was happy to hear that Larry was doing so well, and like me, he was working doing something he really liked to do.
      Larry took my telephone number and said he would get back to me, when he was coming to Florida. So I was pleasantly surprised when Larry called me in 1989 saying he would be coming to Florida with his new wife Roni, and perhaps we could get together for supper, I was so delighted to hear from him. Larry said he had been divorced and had now remarried, and his wife’s parents, were living in North Miami, so it was decided we all meet together at a local Steak and Ale restaurant, which was close to her parent’s home.
     At the restaurant my wife Katherine, and I met Larry’s lovely wife Ronie as well as her father and mother. At the time we had no idea who Larry’s wife Ronie was.
     After supper, Larry told us that he recently had a close call with death. He said that one evening he felt bad and they rushed him to the Hospital. It was there that he said his heart had actually “exploded” and his doctors told him later, that he is the only person they ever saw who had survived from it.
     After recuperating, Larry said he had started promoting singing groups, he was looking for new talent and recording their songs. He said that he had discovered and promoted a group called C & C Music Factory, and they had made several number one hit records with him.
One of the songs was called “Let’s Dance”, and even I, had remembered that song. Both Katherine and I thought it was really nice to hear that Larry was so successful in the record Business. We all enjoyed our evening together with him and his wife Roni, and her parents. We all said our goodbyes, both Katherine and I hoped we would see Larry and Roni again.
    By 1991, my wife Katherine and I were going most weekends to our condo at Executive Bay Club, it was located in Islamorada in the Florida Keys. At the time we were also into disco dancing, and where we lived in Islamorada, one of the only night clubs with live disco music was located on the top of the Holiday Isle Resort building. It was on the top of the building, which
Was only six stories tall, but it was the tallest building in Islamorada. So to get to the nightclub required using their elevator. We stepped in the elevator, but we were quickly advised that the nightclub had been reserved for a private party and we couldn’t go up. We were disappointed but as there were four young people standing in the elevator, I asked them who had reserved the nightclub, they said it was a party for the music Industry. Really, so I said, is my cousin Larry Yasgar here?  Their eyes got real big, “Oh no”, they said, “Larry Yasgar is a big shot in the Industry, he wouldn’t be here, this party is for us lower level employees. Wow, I couldn’t believe it, they all knew my cousin Larry. We left feeling pretty good after hearing what they had said about Larry.  
     It was around 2005, when I had been listening to the Oldie Goldie’s music from the 1950’s and they had just played “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”.  I had been hearing that song for years, but not being a music fan, I never paid any attention as to who sang it. But I knew that I had been hearing it ever since I was a teenager, and I always thought that whoever sang that song had to be some king of genius. Because it sounded so very different when compared to the doo wop, sha na na type music that was being played at the time, and I wondered how they ever did it, but that was it, I never did anything about finding out who and how that song was made.
        So again, around 2009, I was again talking to my wife Katherine about the song, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”. I told my wife that I thought the song was a masterpiece, of highly technical music. I wanted to find out who wrote it, who produced it and who sang it. I wanted to call them up, and tell them I thought it was absolutely fantastic, and a masterpiece, but I had no idea of who, or what group did the song. As we spoke about it, my wife Katherine said, “It was probably made by some “Flash in the Pan” type artist, who never had another hit record and has by now faded into obscurity, I agreed.
     That’s when Katherine suggested, that I should go onto Google and again find my Cousin Larry Yasgar, who could probably tell me everything I wanted to know about the song.
     So I went on Google again to look for my cousin Larry, and I was really surprised to find page after page of Larry's accomplishments, there was no question, he was a rock star at the top of the top, in the music industry.
     I again found Larry’s home telephone number in Stamford Connecticut, and I called him.
Larry was happy to hear from me again. I jokingly told him about my fascination with the song The Lion Sleeps Tonight, and I wondered if he knew who did it? Larry said, “Sure, it was
Jay Siegle of the Tokens, and Larry said he knew Jay. He said he would bump into Jay Single all the time, in the corridors of Columbia Records”. Larry asked me that if I wanted Jay's phone number, he said Jay Siegle was living in upstate New York. So I could either call him, or if I wanted, Larry said he would introduce me to him. He said Jay Siegle was a fantastic artist who sang the song in a falsetto voice. Larry said that Jay Siegle not only sang, but he wrote songs and was also a music producer who had brought many groups up the ladder in the music Industry. He said Jay Siegle was truly a real artist and still going strong, having produced The Captain and Tennille, and many other singing groups.
     Then Larry asked what I was doing, he wanted to know if I had a job for him. I thought he was joking. But Larry sounded a little depressed, and said he was going to apply for a job at a local Wall Mart Store the next day, I really didn’t know if he was joking with me.
     Larry then told me that when the Internet started giving away free music, Columbia Records tried to stop them, and they eventually brought a bunch of law suites against the transmitting of free music and they spent millions of dollars, on attorney’s fees, but it all got them nowhere, and eventually they ran out of money. Larry said that the closing of Columbia had really hurt him financially. And if that wasn’t enough of a problem, he was badly hurt in an automobile accident on the Meritt Parkway and the insurance company had so far refused to pay, so now he had a lot of legal as well as medical expenses.
     Larry said his wife Roni, was now helping by working for a local antique company. But despite all the problems, Larry said was hoping to one day put something together in the music business again. Never the less, I felt bad to hear about all the problems, and I invited them to come for a visit to Florida.
      Then in 2013, Larry called to say he was coming to Florida with his wife Roni, her father was ill and they would like to get together with us when they came down. They did come down, and they stayed with us for a weekend. We all had a good terrific time, and in talking to them we had two surprises. The first surprise was to find out that Larry’s lovely wife Roni was the ex-wife of Tommy James of the Shondells, and what a story she had to tell. She told us about her life with Tommy, and she said that we should read a book written by Tommy James called, “Me, the mob, the Music”. One of the stories Roni told us took place in 1969, Tommy James was performing in Hawaii, and they were living in the lap of luxury in a big house there. Tommy was asked if he wanted to do an upcoming show in upstate New York. They decided not to do it as nothing could be better than living in that big beautiful house in Hawaii, and that’s how they missed doing Woodstock in August of 1969.
      Larry said that after his divorce, he saw Roni in the Cafeteria at Colombia Records, and when he found out she was divorced he just fell in love with her at first sight, and now they have two sons. We could have listened to their stories about the music and record industry forever, it was absolutely fascinating to have them with us.
     While Larry and Roni were visiting us, I called my aunt Lilian. Lilian. Lillian was my mother’s youngest sister who was now ninety years old and living in Hamden Connecticut. She had always told me that she knew Larry, but she didn’t know why. I asked Larry, and he said he didn’t know why she knew him either. It turns out that as a teenager Lillian handled the cash register at Cutlers Records and Tapes on Broadway in New Haven, it was the very same record store where Larry got his start.
      We try to stay in touch with Larry and Roni and they know they always have an open invitation to come visit us in Florida. I am sure they have lots more stories to tell us about the music industry.  


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Sarkis Soghanalian Story

                                                    The Sarkis Soghanalian Story
                                          Otherwise known as the “Merchant of Death”
                                          Written 10/2011 Rewritten 01/2016 Unedited
                                                               Howard Yasgar

         In 1990, my Company, Automotive Parts Industries, which was known as API, was located in Miami, and we were just starting to deal in military vehicle replacement parts.
        Our main office was located at 4500 NW 36 Avenue in North West Miami.
        A short distance from our location, on the corner of NW 36 Avenue and NW 46 Street was a gas station, and across the street from the station, on the corner of NW 46 Street and NW 36 Avenue was another of our warehouses we called the Magic Clean building, and next to that, still on NW 36 Avenue was an empty fenced in lot that we owned. We had bought the empty lot from Jack Olshen of Olshen overseas, a plumbing parts exporting company. Jack had once used the lot to store PVC plumbing pipe. He also owned very large warehouse building that was across the street from the lot. At the time of this story Jack Olshen had just moved his plumbing supply company to a larger building near the Miami Palmetto Expressway, leaving his building on NW 46th Street empty.
       Jack Olshen had offered to sell us the building but at the time it was just too big for us, the building was about 50,000 square feet in size.
      One day a husky fellow came into our office, and he introduced himself as Tony. He looked like he was mid- eastern probably from Turkey. He was about five foot eight inches tall and looked very muscular, he was wearing a blue business suit, which was pretty tight on his body.
      Tony asked if we would be interested in renting our empty lot on 36 Avenue. He said that he represented a company that would be leasing the large Olshen Overseas building, which was right across the street from it, they needed storage space, so we agreed to rent it for $400.00 per month and Tony paid us the first month in cash and told us to write up a lease.
      That very afternoon we watched as they filled the lot with aircraft ground support equipment.
      About a month had passed and I noticed one of the large roll up doors on the Olshen building was open, and there appeared to be some activity, so out of curiosity, I thought I would walk down to see who we were renting out our  lot to.
      I walked up a long ramp, and stepped into the Olshen building. As I did so, a giant German Shepard dog confronted me growling like he was going to attack me. As this was happening someone said, “Down Kibbutz” and the dog backed off. I looked to see a middle aged man in Khaki shirt and shorts approaching me.
      The fellow got right in my face and said, “What do you want?”
      Not knowing exactly what to say, I said, I own the lot you are renting across the street.
      I could see around me that the giant warehouse was empty, with the exception of someone sitting at a card table in the middle of the building. As I looked the person sitting there, as he raised his hand in the air and motioned with his finger for me to come over. The fellow in Khaki’s stepped aside along with the big dog and I walked over to the card table.
      As I approached I saw there was a short, fat fellow sitting there, he was all smiles and he extended his hand to shake mine. His hand was so pudgy, that I found it difficult to shake his hand.
      On the card table was a blank sheet of paper and a bottle of Evian drinking water, nothing else.
      “Who are you?” the pudgy fellow asked, I’m Howard I said, and I am the person renting you the lot across the street.
      “Hello Howard, he said, “I’m Sarkis, and I’m pleased to meet you, please have a seat.”
      Sarkis asked me what I did in our business and I told him that we were in the military parts supply.
      He thought that was interesting, then he said, “Our intention is to rebuild aircraft engines in this building, but we are waiting until we purchase an airport in the Orlando area”.  You are buying an airport I said, yes he said, “It was owned by a movie star, he bought it for his girlfriend and she turned it into a zoo, we are cleaning it up now, and I intend to take the aircraft apart there.”
      I thought, I had once heard something several years ago, about the actor Burt Reynolds buying an airport for his girlfriend and I wondered if this was the same airport.
     Sarkis then asked if he owed me any money for renting the lot, and I said yes.
     Sarkis waved his hand towards the office area in the building and then yelled to someone to bring a map, as well as money for Howard.
      In a minute a young man in his early twenty’s appeared with a map of the airport in Orlando, Sarkis unfolded the map and introduced the fellow as his son Garo. It was then that his secretary appeared with the four hundred dollars in cash for me.
     Sarkis asked Garo to bring another map, and he appeared shortly with a big map with Russian writing on it. Sarkis said, “Howard, this is an airport we own in Russia, It is bigger in square meters than Miami International airport”. I am part owner of a French electronic company and we have contracts in Russia to upgrade the radio system on their T72 tanks. We also are going to upgrade their
      After talking for about an hour, I said goodbye to Sarkis and his son Garo. By that time I had found Sarkis to be the most likeable fellow I ever met, but I didn’t know if I believed everything he said.
      The next day I had an appointment with the vice president of Pan American Bank, who was located on 36th Street in Miami. While I was in his office I mentioned that I had a new neighbor named Sarkis.
      The banker said, “Do you know who Sarkis is?” No, I said, so he told me. He said that Sarkis was also his client and was known as the “Merchant of Death”. He said Sarkis was the second largest arms dealer in the world, and his company Pan American Aviation had recently been closed down, and Sarkis had been indicted for selling Bell helicopters and hand held missile launchers to the country of Iraq.
      It turned out that my banker knew everything about Sarkis, and he said, the Fed’s and the IRS had just confiscated all of Sarkis’s aircraft and equipment, I didn’t dare tell him I was renting Sarkis my storage lot that had a lot of equipment on it.
      How exciting to find out who my new neighbor was, so that afternoon, while I was talking with a friend in Detroit, I mentioned that my new neighbor was Sarkis Soghanalian, who was known as the “Merchant of Death”. My friend Ted in Detroit said he knew Sarkis well.
      Ted said I should mention his name the next time I met with Sarkis. Ted said when he was a young salesman for the Cadillac Gage Company, he met Sarkis in Beirut Lebanon.
      Ted told me he had tried to arrange a meeting with the Defense Minister in Lebanon for two weeks with no success, and he was ready to fly back to the United States. When he was told to contact Sarkis, Soghanalian to arrange a meeting with the Defense Minister.
       Ted went to Sarkis’s office in down town Beirut. He said he went up the stairs to his office and met with Sarkis. He said Sarkis was sitting at a desk with a big open safe behind him. The safe was piled high with U.S. currency and because Ted had never seen so much money before he asked Sarkis if he was afraid someone would steal it.
       Sarkis told him no, the building was loaded with C4 explosives set to detonate if anyone attempted to rob him, and everyone in Beirut knew it.
       Sarkis said that he was very sorry but it was not possible for Ted to meet with the Defense
Minister, but as Ted was leaving Lebanon the next day, he should come to Sarkis’s home that evening, before he left, Sarkis said he was having a little party.
      That evening Ted went by taxi to the party held at Sarkis’s home in the mountains. The home was overlooking the city of Beirut. It was a very large party and he was greeted by Sarkis at the door and they went right to o the bar for a drink, then Sarkis took Ted into the living room and introduced him to the Defense Minister of Lebanon and then he was told the Defense Minister of Saudi Arabia was also there at the party. It wasn’t long after that that Ted sold Cadillac Gage vehicles to both countries.
      Ted said that two years later he returned to Sarkis’s office and asked him if he owed Sarkis a commission for selling vehicles to the two countries. Sarkis said no, he didn’t want a commission he was just happy to help Ted.
      The next day, after speaking to Ted, I met with Sarkis, and I mentioned Ted’s name, and Sarkis said he remembered Teddy and the Cadillac Gage vehicles very well and I should give Ted his best regards.
      Sarkis said, it was shortly after Ted left Beirut the second time, that Sarkis had to leave Lebanon. He said that he had supplied weapons to both the Christians and the Moslems in Lebanon, but the Moslems had gotten mad at him and issued a fatwa to kill Sarkis and his son, so Sarkis said he ordered his men to use two pounds of C4 explosives to destroy his office in the city.
      At twelve noon on the appointed day Sarkis brought his wife and his son and daughter out to their patio to watch the explosion down in the lower city of Beirut. Unfortunately his men had misunderstood him and placed twenty pounds of C4 explosive in the building and when it went off it destroyed an entire city block. Sarkis said that it looked like a nuclear blast, and unfortunately the building’s owner was in it at the time, but Sarkis said he was a no good Christian Moslem Jew bastard anyway.
      For all of this, and probably other reasons, when Sarkis and his family moved to Miami, where he had two bodyguards. There was Avi the Israeli along with Kibbutz his dog, they watched after Sarkis’s son Garo, and there was Tony the Turk who was Sarkis’s personal assistant as well as his bodyguard.
     Whenever Garo’s bodyguard Avi, had a few spare moments, he would stop by my office to talk, but he was ever vigilant when it came to protecting Sarkis’s son Garo.   
      Over the next few months Sarkis and I became pretty good friends and sometimes I would drive our restored Jeep over to his building. Sarkis absolutely loved our restored Jeep, it was a Korean War era M38A1 with a fake 30 caliber machine gun on it and it had several fake hand grenades, sometimes Sarkis would meet me on his loading dock and I would pitch a few fake hand grenades at him and he would throw them back.
       One day Sarkis asked me if I could put together a kit to assemble rebuilt M151 Jeeps, he said he had a market in the mid-east for that, or a similar vehicle. I told him that the U.S. Government was at the time chopping up the Jeeps making it impossible to get parts to make a kit. That’s when Sarkis surprised me.
       He took me into his building where in a corner he had a vehicle under a tarp. He pulled off the cover and there was a miniature military vehicle.
       From the exterior it looked exactly like a small Hummer, Sarkis said his prototype had a Buick V6 gas engine, but the final production models would have German diesels in it. It appeared Sarkis trusted me enough to show me his projects.
       One day a friend of mine came to Miami, he specialized in selling tank track, so I took him over to meet Sarkis. As we sat in Sarkis’s office talking, there was a knock on the door. I opened it a there stood a six foot tall black guy with sunglasses on and he was dressed in a finely tailored custom suit and tie. The only thing missing was a sign on his chest saying C.I.A. He asked for Sarkis, so my friend and I excused ourselves and left quickly.
       A few days later, Sarkis said, “Every time a new agent was assigned to Miami they came to ask me a million questions, and I really don’t know anything.”
      One day I walked over to see Sarkis and there was a Land Rover inside his building and I noticed the back of the vehicle was loaded with olive drab web gear and I thought I saw gun cases.            
       Avi, the Israeli body guard was now dressed in military mountain camouflage clothing, quickly pulled me aside and said the land rover was for the missionaries in Armenia.
       Avi said that they were that day loading Garo’s DC 3 aircraft full of supplies and that Sarkis had pledged three million dollars towards the Armenian hurricane relief. I learned that Sarkis was Lebanon Armenian himself.
       Then Avi said, “Why don’t you come with us?”
       I looked at Avi and I said, what could I possibly do in Armenia? He said Sarkis will introduce you to the president and you can do business with him. I said, do they have money in Armenia? Avi thought for a minute, No they have no money, but they have plenty of women. I said, thanks for the invite but I have to pass on the offer. 
      On a sunny Friday afternoon in 1991, I shook Sarkis's hand, and as I was leaving his office, he said “I will see you Monday Howard”.
       Sunday morning, as I was having a cup of coffee, and reading the Miami Herald, there, low and behold was a picture of my friend Sarkis. The article said that Sarkis was going on trial that Monday morning in Miami. He was charged with conspiring to sell helicopters and missile launchers to Iraq.
       I wondered, how it was possible that Sarkis didn’t mention a word about his upcoming trial. He had told me that he would see me on that very Monday?
       It was said that Sarkis was the largest arms dealer in the world, and was the arms dealer to Iraq for the C.I.A.
       I then saw on television that Sarkis was convicted and sentenced to six and one half years in prison, I kind of felt bad for Sarkis as it was pretty obvious he was working in conjunction with the C.I.A. and they had instructed him to do it. 
       I walked over to his building several times, asking, Avi, Garo and Tony if I could visit Sarkis in jail. They said “No”. I asked his son Garo, if anything could be sent to Sarkis, like books, and he again said, “No”. They all appeared to be very evasive with me, and I never found out where Sarkis was being held.
       In 1993, my wife Katherine and I were at Miami International Airport waiting for one of our suppliers that was flying in to visit us, and while standing there waiting for the flight to arrive, I met Sarkis’s son Garo, walked up and tapped me on the back. Garo said he was at the airport to meet a friend.
      When we went to pick up our friends bags at the luggage carousel, there in front of me, bending over to get a bag was my pudgy friend Sarkis.  His shirt was untucked so I pressed my finger into his side like it was a pistol. He stood up, turned towards me, and with a broad smile, he said “Howard, how are you?”
       Sarkis said he was on his way to France, and I never saw him again.
       I have read on the internet that Sarkis went on to sell machine guns to Vladimiro Montesinos, the head of Peru’s intelligence service, and the guns ended up with the Rebels in Colombia. The scandal brought down the government in Peru and Montesinos was put in prison.
      Sarkis had always claimed that everything he ever did was with the permission of the U.S. Government, and most everything he did was for the benefit of the U.S. Government, and the C.I.A. He claimed he was a true U.S. patriot.
       To me, Sarkis was a short pudgy fun neighbor, who always greeted me with a broad smile.
       In 2001 Sarkis was ill and he contacted a reporter in the states that he trusted. He wanted to check with the Department of State to find out if he could return to the U.S. from France. The reporter said he could, but when the plane landed Sarkis was arrested and put in the Krome Avenue Detention Center in Miami.
       I tried to follow up, and find out if he needed some assistance, he was sick, but no one would talk to me.        
       On Oct 8, 2011, I read in the Miami Herald that Sarkis, the “Merchant of Death” had died at age 82 in Hialeah Florida, just a few miles from where I live.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Band of 40 Thieves Story

                                                     The Band of 40 Thieves Story
                                                                   A true story
                                      Written 07/14/2015, rewritten 03/23/ 2016 unedited
                                                                Howard Yasgar

      By the end of 1962, I had been working with Abe Zion for about a year, Abe Zion was the fellow who had shown up at my auto wrecking yard in Stamford, Connecticut, and said he owned it. I had leased the yard in good faith from my old boss at Milford Auto Wrecking, Lenny Wisnesky. When I did it, I already knew that Lenny was a car thief and con man, I found that out when I had worked for him at Milford Auto Wrecking while attending College. While I was working there I discovered that the cars I was hauling for Lenny were all stolen, but that’s a whole other story.  
      When I leased the Stamford yard from Lenny, I was young and enthusiastic college graduate, and I didn’t asked him too many questions about who owned the junk yard name, or the license, or who owned the lease on the property. So when this fellow Abe Zion showed up, and claimed that he held the lease on the property that presented me with a decision to make.
      Running that auto wrecking yard on West Main Street in Stamford Connecticut had become a big headache for me. I was driving every day all the way from New Haven to Stamford, and the ride was getting on my nerves. Then I found out that when my business was closed on Sundays, practically everyone in Stamford jumped over my junk yard fence and stole whatever they wanted. So when Abe showed up and claimed that he owned the yard, I was really ready to do something else anyway.
      Abe Zion was a short agile fellow with a distinct Arabic look, he dressed well in an expensive blue pin striped business suit and nicely designed tie, and Abe wore highly polished pointy black dress shoes and he had slicked back black hair. Abe looked like he just stepped out of a Wall Street office.
      When I spoke with Abe, he said that he was an Israeli Citizen, so other than the fact that he looked like a Palestinian Arab, I had no reason to ever disbelieve him. After partnering up with him, I recognized that Abe was probably the smartest man I had ever met.
      Abe had an associate named Eichel Blumenstock, Eichel was about eighty years old and he followed Abe around wherever he went. (See the Abe Zion Story). According to Abe, Eichel was originally the Michelin franchise holder for all of Germany and he had fled to Israel after being imprisoned by the Nazi's. Once in Israel, that’s where Eichel met Abe, and Abe became Eichel’s assistant. Years later, and now that they both lived in the United States, their roll was reversed, Eichel had now become Abe's assistant. Eichel wasn't a real assistant in any way, as he really couldn't do much, but Abe out of kindness of his heart treated Eichel as his associate anyway.
      Looking back on it, I think when Abe showed up in Stamford and met me, he must have thought it was a dream come true for him. Because at the time I was young and I had a lot of energy, also, I was interested in learning, so, what that meant to Abe, was that if he played his cards right, he had a willing assistant, and a hard worker that wouldn’t cost too much money, and that was exactly how Abe liked to operate. So once I sat down with Abe, he offered me a proposition that I couldn’t refuse, and I agreed to join with him and Eichel. It wasn’t long before I could see that Abe was smart that way, he always made sure that I made good money with him, but he also made sure it was not too much money, he wanted me to always be hungry to join with him on the next project, and to do that, Abe always had a way to make me feel that there was going to be a very big payoff coming very soon.
      I had never met anyone like Abe before, you could say he was a real “Wheeler Dealer”, who every day had some new project or deal for us to work on. Thus for as long as I worked with Abe, I could say we did a lot of crazy deals together, and I never regretted a minute of it, and that’s what this story is all about, it is about one of those deals, one that I regretted at the moment,  but never regretted what I had learned from it.
     I have to admit that sometimes, I wanted to say Abe was a Con Man, but he really wasn't, Abe was just too smart for his own good, and his thinking always got way ahead of himself, and that made him always about ten steps ahead of anyone around him. Thus as Abe moved forward with his new deals, he left a lot of people behind him never knowing what was going on, or what had happened, I was usually left with the headache of  rectifying and cleaning up the mess Abe left in his wake, as he moved on.
      Abe always drove his car everywhere, with me sitting in the passenger seat, and Eichel sitting in the back seat with his eyes closed. We only stopped for gas or to get “take out” food which we all ate while Abe continued driving. Abe ate with one hand and drove with the other, he said that he didn’t want to waste our valuable time sitting in a restaurant.
      As we drove, Abe taught me constantly, he talked about business, and the philosophy of business, as well as a million other subjects in his head. For me it was just like being in school again, Abe was my professor. Whenever I came home and complained to my mother about how Abe operated, she said, “The education you are receiving from Abe, was better than any Ivy League college you ever could ever have attended”, and she was right.
      When we weren’t working on some project, we would retreat to our small office on West Main Street in Stamford Connecticut.  Abe, always sat with his feet up on our old scratched wooden desk and he would act like a corporate CEO, discussing our various projects. Then around lunch time I would run out to get sandwiches and go to the news stand and get a copy of the New York Herald Tribune.  
We would all look to see what kinds of auctions were going on. The Herald Tribune would print a solid two pages just devoted to all the auctions that were taking place in the New York and New Jersey area.
      Abe would read each auction very carefully, always looking for something interesting and profitable for us to do. Abe was always looking for an auction with merchandise that we knew something about, so if we went and bought anything, we would have a good idea as to where to sell it. To someone smart like Abe, our making money from all of auction stuff was like a game that he was good at, and Abe wanted to teach me how to do it.   
      As we studied the newspapers, Eichel Blumenstock sat quietly in a chair with his hands folded together, just waiting for some kind of lofty pronouncement from Abe.
     All of a sudden, Abe smiled, he said, there was to be a big auction the day after tomorrow in New York City. It was a large “AA A” automotive towing company located in one of those tall parking garage buildings, It had a floor with just offices, another floor with a parts department then a mechanical repair shop and there was also a complete body shop. Abe said the bankrupt business was located in New York right in Manhattan, within sight of the United Nations building.   
      In the morning I drove from New Haven to New York City, I drove right to the address of the auction, that’s where I was to meet Abe and Eichel.
     When I got there, the first thing I noticed was how big the building was, it was one of  those parking lot buildings where you entered on the ground floor and you drove in circles to each floor on an endless curved concrete ramp, with your wheels squealing. I parked my car on the seventh floor and walked to the next floor, it was the floor that had the bookkeeping and administration offices. When I got there, I saw that the whole floor was made up of large and small glass walled offices, perhaps  fifty of them, all filled with file cabinets loaded with company files and invoices, and then there were lots of desks with elaborate telephones systems on them, with some phones appearing to have a hundred push buttons on it.
      The next floor I walked up to, was the automotive work shop, it had departments where the mechanical repairs were made on the cars. There were engine repair departments, transmission repair departments, and endless bays and benches where the mechanics could work on cars. On the next floor was the companies parts department, it was where the auctioneer and most of the people were now waiting. The auctioneer had a table set up and was handing out catalogs that told you what the various lots were that were going to be auctioned off.
     I quickly looked over the parts department, and saw there were endless shelves with all types of new spare parts on them. I didn’t see Abe or Eichel anywhere so I walked up to the top floor, it was the body shop. The body shop was complete with chassis straighteners, paint booths everything a body shop mechanic needed. This AAA automotive center had obviously once been a giant operation, employing hundreds of people. From the top floor I looked out the windows and on the other side of the East River I could actually see the United Nations building complex.
      I estimated that there were over a hundred people at the auction, all doing the same as me, looking at everything that was to be auctioned off, and that’s when I saw Abe, and Eichel so I walked over to see them. Together we again walked around each floor discussing what Abe thought would be the best items for us to bid on.
      As we walked, I saw that Abe recognized someone, his facial expression changed completely. What’s the matter I asked him, “Nothing”, he said, and then Abe leaned over and whispered to me, “The mafia is here”. I heard him, but I didn't have a clue as to what he was talking about, so what if the mafia was there at the auction, I had nothing to do with them.
      We then walked to a quiet area where Abe could talk to me, with no one listening, he explained to that in New York and New Jersey, the mafia controlled all the big auctions. He said they were called the “Band of 40 Thieves”. Abe said, “When the Mafia showed up at an auction, you couldn't buy anything unless you cleared it with them first. If they liked you, they would do all the bidding for you and buy what you wanted, and then they would sell it to you at a profit, and that was only if they liked you. If they didn't like you, they wouldn't let you buy anything.” And if you tried to go around them, they would run the prices up high so you wasted your money. If that happened and you got mad at them, they would take you outside and do to you what the Mafia does to people they don’t like.
      I asked Abe, why don’t we just leave and forget this auction, it wasn’t like we needed to be there.
I said, who need to get involved with mobsters?  Then I asked Abe if he would point them out to me,
I wanted to dee who the boss of the Mafia was, I wanted to see what a real live New York Mafia mobster looked like. Abe motioned with his head for me to follow him, and we slowly walked back to where the crowd of people were.
      Abe approached a fellow that was having a loud discussion with several men, all whom looked like wise guys out of the godfather movie. Abe approached them with Eichel and me in tow.
      As we got close, I could see one of the tough looking guys that had been facing me, made a motion with his eyes and an older fellow whose back was towards us, turned around, and he immediately saw Abe. He smiled and put his hand out, “Abe Zion, how are you,” he said, “I’m Good Tony,” Abe replied.
      I thought the fellow looked pleasant enough, he looked like he could be someone’s grandfather. He was about 60 years old, a bit potbellied, and wore his work pants with suspenders.
      “What brings you here Abe?” He asked. Abe said, “We thought we could find something to make a few dollars on,” Abe replied. “Let me know if you see something you like”, the older fellow said”, “I will”,” Abe replied.
      Then Abe said, “Tony, I want to meet a good kid from New Haven”, and he introduced me.
I was surprised that Abe knew the mobster so well that they were on a first name basis and I was even more surprised that the mobster guy knew who Abe was, and he knew him by his name, and he appeared to be friends with Abe.
      The Mobster boss glanced me over and said to Abe, “Does the kid know the score?”  “Yes.” Abe said, “He knows the score” and if you need some help just ask him, he’s available to assist you if you need him. With that having been said, the fellow, turned back to the men he was talking to, paying us no more attention.
      The auction started, and the auctioneer walked from each lot to lot, auctioning off each one as he went.  Abe had already given Tony one of the catalogs with six lots circled that we wanted Tony to bid on for us.
     By about three in the afternoon the crowd had thinned out, it was possible most of them were scared off by the “Band of 40 thieves” being there. Eventually there were only about thirty people remaining, and as we all followed the auctioneer, I soon found myself standing next to Tony, the Mafioso, and his band of 40 thieves.
     Tony turned to me and said quietly, hey, New Haven, you got twenty bucks on you? I got a little nervous, because in 1962 twenty dollars was like two hundred dollars would be today “Yeah” I replied, I have twenty dollars. So Tony said, “Take a twenty dollar bill and roll it up so no one see's it, and put it in the auctioneer's left hand. Then tell him Tony said that you get the clean-up.”
     The moment the auctioneer slowed his pace down, I stepped up to him and pressed the twenty dollars into his left hand, and I told him, Tony said, I got the clean-up. The auctioneer looked at me, nodded in the affirmative, put the twenty dollars in his pocket, and kept on auctioning as if nothing happened.
     After the auction, I asked Abe, “what he thought, regarding Tony telling me that I had the “clean up”, I told Abe that it cost us twenty dollars.
     Abe said, “I think, Tony has taken a liking to you, and the cleanup could be very profitable for us, it means that after the auction was over, and everyone had left, you can come back and take anything that was left over, and no one would say anything to you. You can even take the building, as there will be no one here to watch what you are doing”.
     I knew Abe was joking regarding taking the building, but for me it was exciting to think that for only twenty dollars everything left over from the auction was ours. Then Abe smiled and said “You see, now, you are number forty one in the band of forty thieves”.
    That afternoon, as everyone was loading up from the auction, Tony the Mob boss came over and put his hand on my shoulder. He said his boys were loading a truck with what we bought and what they bought, and he asked me to follow the truck to New Jersey. He said I was to make sure nothing fell off the truck on the way there. I didn’t dare refuse, and it became quite a scary trip to New Jersey for me. Their truck was way over loaded, and it was loaded with more than a hundred eight foot long fluorescent fixtures they had removed from the building. As they loaded the truck, many of the glass fluorescent tubes had become loose from the metal fixtures. So every time their truck made any kind of turn, all the fluorescent glass tubes would slide out the side of the truck about three feet, and almost hit the cars in the other lanes. My heart was in my mouth the whole trip, but fortunately there were no accidents and once we all were in New Jersey, I was treated to a spaghetti supper as if I was a new member of the mob and they all referred to me as “Mister New Haven”.  
     The next morning, I got an early start from Stamford, driving our one and a half ton stake body GMC truck to the building in New York. Our truck had a nice flatbed on it about seven feet wide and ten feet long.
     When I got to the building in New York, there was a security guard at the entrance and I leaned out the window of the truck, and in my best New York mobster accent, I said, I’m the cleanup guy, and he just waved me in. I was so very excited at the prospect of what I might find left over on the different floors, I didn’t know where to start.
     I drove round and round all the parking floors until I got to the administration floor where all the offices had been. I parked the truck and got out to survey the situation. It appeared that all the filing cabinets had been sold and whoever bought them had emptied all the papers from the drawers onto the floor. In some places the papers piled on the floor was over a foot thick. I couldn’t believe it, as I thought I was going to be rich after loading up and selling all the scrap paper. I thought, that guy Tony was wasn’t a bad guy, his letting me get the cleanup, and all.
      I looked around and it appeared that I was the only one in the whole building, but it also felt very hot, as the air conditioning in the building must have been shut off, but who cares, all I had to do was load the truck up with the paper and run it down to the scrap paper dealer and collect my money.
      I started to pick up the piles of papers off the floor and piling it on the bed of my truck, it wasn’t as easy as I thought, the papers were all invoices with carbon paper, they were slippery and they were laying in all directions on the floor. I had to organize them into stacks, then carry a stack to the truck. Then when I had several piles on the trucks bed, I had to climb up on the truck and stack them up in an orderly fashion. After several hours, I hadn’t even made a dent in loading the papers on the floor. I was soaked in sweat, and my hands were black from the carbon paper. That’s when I started to have second thoughts about everything.
      As I stood there thinking of a better solution, I heard someone whistling, it was the security guard, and he was just making his rounds of the different floors on the building. He said, “How's it going pal?”  Not bad I replied. He looked at the paper I had on the truck and said, “What are you going to do with all the scrap paper, you going to the dump”?  I'm going to fill the truck up and take it to the scrap paper mill, I replied, he stared at me for a few seconds, then he said, “Are you sure they will buy paper with carbon paper mixed in?” Well, that’s when it dawned on me. The papers on the floor were invoices all in triplicate with carbon paper in between each sheet. I should have known, it was absolutely worthless as scrap paper, no one wanted scrap carbon paper.
      The security guard left and went about his business, and I climbed up on the truck again to throw all the paper that I had stacked up, back onto the floor. For over an hour I pushed it, I threw it, I kicked it, and I think it took me longer to push the paper off truck than it took for me to load it on. If I could have kicked myself in the ass I would have done it. I didn’t know how I could have possibly been so stupid, it was now late in the afternoon, so I drove back to Stamford Connecticut that night very depressed.  
     The next morning, I was re-energized, I drove the truck back to the building in New York. And that morning, fortunately for me, there was a different security guard so I didn't have to face the one that told me about the carbon paper. But today I was determined to find something of value in the building, I knew there had to be something good there.
     When I got to the administration floor, that’s when I noticed all the telephones that were buried under the papers on the floor. I pulled one out, it must have had thirty or forty buttons on it. I took out my cutting pliers and cut the phone free. After that I cut about another hundred phones free, and I had a big water blister on my hand from using the cutting pliers, I had to stop. I looked over at the phones, the housings were plastic and most were cracked or broken. I came to the conclusion that what I was doing was making another mistake. I was killing myself loading plastic telephones that were broken and couldn’t be sold. So I felt that I should leave the pile of telephones and look for something that was a little easier to do.
     I drove to the next floor in the building which was the mechanical repair shop, but like the floor below it was just littered with trash from all the people removing what they had bought at the auction.
     I walked around the entire floor and checked every inch, but I never saw one item of value for me to take. After lunch, I drove the truck up to the next floor which had been the paint and body shop area. I was starting to get a bad feeling about this clean up deal that Tony the mobster had so kindly fixed me up with.
     Just like the other floors, the body shop floor was completely cleaned out, except for trash. But there was one small room that was about 10 foot wide by 20 feet deep with a door that was stuck closed. On the roof of the room was about ten used, bent chrome car bumpers. So by using a piece of a bent bumper, I got the door of the room opened and went inside. Thank god I had finally found something.
      The little room was full of car paint, there was shelf after shelf of paint, gallons, quarts and pints, every car color you could imagine. At that point I realized that there was nothing left in the building but the paint to take back to Stamford, so I spent a couple of hours loading everything from the room on the truck.
      The next day, I was back in Stamford Connecticut, and Abe and Eichel came down to the yard to see what I had brought back from the auction cleanup. Abe looked at the paint and I could tell by the expression on his face that he didn't know what to say, as he reached in and pulled out a quart of paint and brought it over to me to read the label. It said 1952 Pontiac Forest Green, and the can was obviously used, it was only half full. “Who can you sell this to,” Abe asked? By then I already knew
Abe was right, there was no one to sell half used cans of old car paint to. But I had to take something, after all I had twenty dollars invested.
     Then Abe said, if we get caught with all this paint pollution on our property, we could get in big trouble, and I knew that he was right, so I drove to the nearest trash dumpster and threw all the paint away. I  now know that if it were today, and we were caught with all that paint, the EPA would probably fine me a million dollars or put me in prison, but in 1962, there was no restrictions on throwing paint in the trash.
     After that auction experience, I couldn’t determine if Tony, the Mafioso leader of the “Band of 40 Thieves” was trying to do me a favor, or if he was he teaching me a good lesson. If it was a lesson, I had learned it pretty good. Anyway Abe was right, for a short time I was number forty one in the “Band of forty thieves.”